The sluggard’s Instagram is unforgettable. If you have followed him in the Scriptures, you readily picture this creature sticking his hand in the bowl of Cheetos, unwilling to lift it back up to his mouth (Proverbs 19:24). We picture the man marooned on his bed, energetically telling about all the lions that prowl the streets (Proverbs 26:13–14).
But if you know the man in real life, his comic profile is not that funny anymore. As smoke in the eyes, he comes to irritate us because we have found repeatedly that we cannot depend upon him (Proverbs 10:26). You might roll your eyes at him at first, but soon you give an exasperated, Really? “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?” (Proverbs 6:9). He refuses to plow in autumn (Proverbs 20:4). His hands refuse to labor (Proverbs 21:25). Yet calling up to us from his mother’s basement, he insists that he is wise and life is right where he wants it (Proverbs 26:16). He is a blend of satire and shame, a tragi-comic figure, as Derek Kidner names him (Proverbs, 39).
So to me, the sluggard was always someone else.
I had never considered Scripture’s testimony of the more sophisticated lazy man — one with his shirt tucked in, going about his work, busily adding events to his calendar. I dismissed the cartoon, never taking time to examine myself against one species of sloth given to us in Proverbs: the man who busies himself with starting many things, but doesn’t bring them to completion.
The wise king of Proverbs shows us this active sluggard. He, unlike the traditional sloth, is up early in the morning. He has his eggs and drinks his coffee. Instead of being discovered in the sloth’s usual habitat — buried beneath sheets and pillows — he is up and about, stalking through the forest, pursuing his prey. He is a hunter.
See him tracking his animal — thoughtful, calculated, alert. He sets his traps and camouflages himself for the kill. He knows his target; he knows his weapon; he lies in wait. While his brother sloth is sleeping in the trees, he is armed in the bushes. While the other excuses inaction by complaining of lions in the streets, he is crouched where lions roar. When he sees his quarry, he times his assault perfectly and springs violently. The king sees this man return in the morning with a carcass draped over his shoulder.
So far, he is full of manful action. But notice where the laziness of this hunting sluggard manifests:
The lazy man does not roast what he took in hunting. (Proverbs 12:27 NKJV)
What a strange picture. The man woke up early. He prepared his tools. He lay in wait. He acted deliberately, forcefully. He took the prize, brought home the meat — but never cooked it. Perhaps he decided he had worked hard enough for one day. Perhaps he realized just how tired he felt. His enthusiasm died before the meal was prepared.
He labored promisingly, for a time. He remained focused, for a while. His was hard but unfinished work. In the end, his plate is just as empty as that of the other sluggard, waking at his return.
Men, how many tasks have you started strong and finished weak (or not at all)? How many deer have we killed but never tasted? How much nourishment has laziness robbed from our souls, our families, our churches, our world?
“How much nourishment has laziness robbed from our souls, our families, our churches, our world?”
I think this spirit of so-far-and-no-farther plagues our generation. We recreate at life; we rarely commit. Manhood seems less tethered to follow-through, to roasting the meat we hunt. Consider just a few examples.
Relationships: date, but never marry.
Some men enjoy the chase of dating without taking any real steps toward marriage. They love the excitement, the hunt, the thrill, the flirt, the challenge — but lazily want nothing to do with lifelong commitment. Covenant panics them. They live unwilling to vow,
I take you to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, honor, comfort, and cherish you, and forsaking all others to keep myself only unto you as long as we both shall live.
So they date for fun; they go hunting but never roast. Their catch-and-release policy might be less offensive if it didn’t leave behind a trail of pierced and discarded hearts. They put in effort to get to know daughters of the King, but never know the feast that marital love provides nor the lasting fruit it bears.
Church: attend, but never join.
How many men can leave their local church without anyone noticing? They never joined, never served, never devoted themselves to God’s people. Their schooling or career earned their talents and commitment. Their intramural basketball team or local gym received their dedication and time. While they placed their bodies in the church on Sundays, their hearts remained in the world.
Such are the many who know little of belonging to a local church. They come, but bolt at the soonest opportunity. They will listen to the sermon but search for any excuse to stay home and watch the livestream. They disappear for weeks at a time to their cabin or vacation and never get around to joining because of the weight of expectations. These play at Christianity, hunting theological game but never roasting it.
Work: labor, but for appearances.
How many men really commit themselves to excellence, to comprehensiveness in their work? How many drape the kill of their life’s work over their shoulder and take pleasure in the careful roasting of the meat? To the Christian man who found himself a slave in the early Colossian church, Paul instructs, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23–24).
Work heartily — literally, “from your soul” — even in this, the most unpleasant of work situations. How many of us are eye-pleasers in our work — working hard when others watch us, but switching tabs and scrolling Twitter as soon as they walk away? How often have you and I stopped short of cooking the meal God would have for us?
Where would we be if Jesus were the hunter many of us have been? If he came and lived a couple of decades among us and called it quits? If he fell upon his knees in Gethsemane and went no farther, or felt the first nail through the wrist and summoned his army of angels? What if he came to save as an eye-pleaser, a hired hand who turned tail and ran when Satan, our sins, and God’s righteous wrath bore down on him?
If he stopped short, if he left even one step of the journey for us alone to achieve, we would be lost. If even one ounce of atoning blood needed to come from our veins, we would have no hope. If even one perfect work was yet required to fulfill the law on our behalf, all would remain undone. If Jesus somehow proved only a partway Prophet, a mostly Messiah, a nearly sufficient Savior for us — we all would submerge beneath the burning waves forever.
But oh for a thousand tongues to praise the completeness of our Mediator’s work. Our Shepherd did not bring most of his sheep nearly all the way home. He fulfills: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one” (John 18:9). This great high priest “saves to the uttermost” those who draw near to God through him (Hebrews 7:25). “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). His towering declaration from the height of the cross dealt not with nearlys, almosts, or mostlys, but rather — “It is finished!” (John 19:30).
Finishing with Feast
Brothers, our work is not his work, but let us learn from our Master, who embodied the second half of the proverb perfectly: “The lazy man does not roast what he took in hunting, but diligence is man’s precious possession” (Proverbs 12:27 NKJV). Where are the men of diligence in the church today, men who follow-through, men who sprint through the finish line? Athletic men in the world exercise self-control in all things, but do so for a perishable wreath — should we not much more do so for the imperishable (1 Corinthians 9:25)?
“May we enjoy the feast from the good works for which we labored.”
Let’s be the few men on earth known for finishing the good we start in our families, our work, our churches, our communities, our nation, our world. Let our “yes” be yes and the quality of our commitments never be questioned. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). You serve the Lord. Let each of us, in our own ways, end our lives saying after our Master, “I have glorified you on the earth. I have finished the work which you have given me to do” (John 17:4 NKJV).
And may we enjoy the roasted feast from the good works for which we labored with all our might.